Driver attitudes need to change
South Africa ended the year on a positive note for road safety in 2017, with a 10% drop in road fatality rates over the festive season.
Unfortunately, this achievement was not shared over the past Easter period, which saw a 14% increase, with 510 deaths between 29 March and 9 April.
When Transport Minister Blade Nzimande released the Easter road death toll, he announced the shocking increase in road fatalities over Easter over the same period in 2017. This period coincided with the national school holidays. The Automobile Association (AA) and industry experts responded and agreed that the release of these numbers must serve as an urgent indication to government to bring all role players in road safety into the fold to deal more effectively with this shocking waste of human life.
According to the minister, the 510 deaths on the country’s roads over this period are 61 more than in 2017. There was also an increase in the number of vehicles involved in fatal crashes over the extended Easter period. In 2017 this number was 349 crashes. In 2018 it dramatically increased to 430. The AA pointed out the very worrying increase in the number of pedestrians killed over the period, up from 33,8% in 2017 to 37,3% this year.
It must be remembered that the fatality numbers may increase due to a 30-day waiting period after 9 April. This is a customary period when calculating final numbers to account for all road-related deaths during the dates under review.
Rob Handfield-Jones, owner of training company www.driving.co.za, said he would like to compare the final numbers of the full period before commenting. He has in the past been highly critical of the way these statistics were “massaged” to imply improvements based on an incorrect comparison. HandfieldJones is a previous head of the AA and renowned for his fearless stance on road safety.
The AA says these figures paint a bleak picture. “While there are commitments to bring these numbers down drastically, the opposite is happening. We remain of the view that a more concerted, cohesive approach involving all role players in road safety in South Africa must be considered as a matter of urgency.” The association also noted that consistent actions are needed to deal with the deaths of pedestrians as the most vulnerable group. “As road safety advocates, we believe education with this group is urgently required, as is a change in driver attitude to sharing the road with those most at risk. We also believe that dealing more effectively with pedestrian safety will greatly reduce the number of fatalities we see annually,” the AA stated.
Another area of concern for the AA is the issue of effective policing as opposed to policing based on process.
“Too many available traffic law enforcement officials are still stationed at static sites checking for expired licence discs and driving licenses. This, in our opinion, will not effectively reduce the number of fatalities. We hope this will be a key priority for the minister to implement,” the AA said.
According to Nzimande, there were a number of arrests over the same period that suggest that South African drivers are still indulging in dangerous driving. More than 6 000 drivers were caught speeding, 3 208 were driving unlicensed vehicles, 2 344 were not wearing seat belts and more than 1 600 were driving vehicles with worn tyres. Nzimande notes that all of these are cause for concern.
Managing director of MasterDrive Eugene Herbert says that if we are to achieve another 10% reduction in fatality rates, attitudes need to change. He says South African drivers tend to put the blame on “other drivers” without assessing their own driving behaviour. “Few drivers believe that their own behaviour like speeding or disobeying other road rules is the problem. The question is how we can change these beliefs and the consequent dangerous driving behaviour. This is where the corporate world has the potential to bring about the biggest difference. Through awareness, training and safety initiatives, they have the opportunity to show employees - and others - the first-hand consequences of dangerous driving behaviour.”
Herbert’s company is involved in a number of safety initiatives with various companies to bring about this awareness. Many companies host wellness days and events to help employees lead healthy lifestyles. MasterDrive regards the knowledge and skills to be a competent and aware driver on South African roads as an essential part of the wellness approach. This knowledge ultimately affects members of a family as well.
“While significant change depends on citizens and law-enforcers, companies have considerable access to drivers and the power to encourage a change in mindset.”
Transport Minister Blade Nzimande